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Simple Immune-Boosting Strategies

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Simple Immune-Boosting Strategies

Environmental and emotional stressors - they inundate our immune system daily. But there are simple steps and supplements we can take to boost our immune system.

Chemicals, bacteria, and emotional stressors—often invisible, yet they inundate our immune system on a daily basis. Over time these stressors compromise our ability to ward off even mild infections. But there are simple,
everyday things we can do to strengthen our immunity.

Try these simple immune-boosting strategies to get you through the upcoming flu season.

1: Reduce stress and manage anger

Daily stress can lead to strong emotions of anger that have been shown to suppress the immune system. Whether you react with road rage or have an argument with your spouse, you could be at greater risk for infection.

Researchers examined the impact of anger on secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), an antibody found in mucosal secretions. sIgA is the first line of defence against pathogens in the eyes, ears, nose, and throat. Five minutes of anger significantly reduced sIgA levels for up to six hours.

A naturopathic doctor can perform adrenal function testing to measure your overall sIgA levels. Vitamin A and regular exercise can help keep sIgA levels in an optimal range. Meditation, yoga, and time for yourself can contribute to stress reduction to keep your immune system strong.

2: Take herbs and supplements

Certain herbs and supplements can strengthen immune cell defences to mount a response and protect the body from infection.

Astragalus membranaceus (or Huang Qi) is a well-researched medicinal herb used throughout Asia. Astragalus root stimulates the immune system by activating inactive immune cells, increasing the production of immunoglobulins, and stimulating macrophages, the first-line defenders of the immune system.

Astragalus also helps to modulate stress, ease smoking cessation, and reduce inflammation.

Gentle and safe, astragalus can be used over long durations for the prevention of colds and flu in children due to its antiviral capacity. However, it should not be given to children who are running a fever. Astragalus can interact with other herbs and medications, so consult your health care practitioner before using it.

In addition to taking a tincture or tablet form of this botanical, you can purchase raw astragalus root from health food stores (it looks like a tongue depressor). Add it to your soup stock for extra immune support.

One of the most widely used herbs in the world, echinacea acts as an immune stimulant and antimicrobial agent. A 2007 review of 14 different studies concluded that echinacea may decrease the odds of developing a common cold by 58 percent and the duration of a cold by 1.4 days.

Echinacea has an earthy taste, stimulates salivation, and after a few minutes creates a numbness and tingling sensation in the mouth. This is caused by alkylamides, the active ingredient in echincacea.

It is important to choose a product that combines at least two species of echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, or Echinacea pallida) and that specifies the amount of alkylamides it contains.

Echinacea is safe to use long term for the prevention and treatment of infections such as influenza and colds. It also treats cystitis, shingles, and skin disorders such as psoriasis, acne, and eczema.

When choosing an echinacea product, ensure it contains 1 to 2 mg of alkylamides per dose for effective results.

If you have allergies to ragweed, sunflower seeds, or dandelions, then you may have an allergy to echinacea and should avoid this herb. People on immunosuppressant medications should also avoid taking echinacea.

Astragalus, echinacea, and most herbs should not be taken with meals, as food can interfere with absorption.

Vitamin D
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is a pre-hormone that powerfully regulates immune tolerance and resistance to infection. A 2009 systematic review of 13 controlled trials with vitamin D showed positive results for the treatment and prevention of bacterial and viral upper respiratory tract infections. Further research is recommended into the relationship between vitamin D and the immune response.

Another study showed a decreased recurrence of illness in children with a history of frequent infections. Researchers also reported decreased infections in healthy adult women who had higher vitamin D levels in their blood.

Living in the northern hemisphere predisposes us to vitamin D deficiency. Your health care practitioner can test your blood levels and recommend the appropriate dosage of vitamin D. Recommended dosages of vitamin D are being studied by Health Canada with the results expected to be published in the summer of 2010.

Cod liver oil, wild salmon, and mackerel are good sources of vitamin D.

Probiotics help to maintain a protective role for friendly bacteria in the gut. Prescription medications, poor digestion, yeast overgrowth, and even digestive cleanses can deplete beneficial bacteria and predispose the body to infections.

Choose the highest quality probiotic available. Look for probiotics that are refrigerated. If you have a pre-existing condition such as allergies, eczema, Crohn’s disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, consult a health care practitioner to choose the right strain of bacteria for you.

Make sure the probiotic you choose lists the genus, species, and strain; for example, Lactobacillus acidophilus DC07 strain.

3. Take a contrast hydrotherapy shower

Water has a presence, a power, and an ability to heal. Contrast hydrotherapy (alternating hot and cold water) has been used medicinally for thousands of years for ailments ranging from anxiety to pneumonia.

Hot water creates vasodilation, thus enhancing blood and immune cell circulation. Cold water creates vasoconstriction, pumping debris and dead cells away from healthy tissues. Alternating hot and cold water treatments may positively impact immune function, improve stress response, and alleviate insomnia.

Incorporate five to 10 seconds of cold water therapy at the end of your shower every day to invigorate the body and to improve your immunity over time.

However you decide to boost your immune system this season, adequate sleep, hydration, and a healthy diet are paramount. Incorporating just a few herbs and one or two lifestyle changes will help reduce your chances of getting ill and, at the very least, decrease your
recovery time.

Reduce electromagnetic radiation (EMR)

A good night’s sleep strengthens the immune system. Research suggests that even low levels of EMRs may be associated with immune system deregulation, and allergic and inflammatory responses. Reduce the EMR exposure in your bedroom:

  • Move your clock radio as far away from your head as possible.
  • Don’t have a TV in the bedroom.
  • Turn off your wireless Internet before you go to bed.
  • Charge your cell phone in a different part of the home—not your bedroom!


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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD